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Dawn of the Dead(2004)
The dead have become zombies, stalking in an endless quest to feed on those who remain alive. A group of desperate survivors in a Wisconsin town seek refuge in a large indoor mall, where they must learn not only to protect themselves from the zombie horde, but also to co-exist with each other. Remake of the 1978 film.
For more about Dawn of the Dead and the Dawn of the Dead Blu-ray release, see Dawn of the Dead Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on September 26, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer, Ty Burrell, Michael Kelly
Director: Zack Snyder
» See full cast & crew
Dawn of the Dead Blu-ray Review
The re-imagining of a classic.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, September 26, 2008
So what's the bad news?
It's nice to see Hollywood leaving behind its teenagers-in-peril slasher movie craze of the 1990s, some of which teetered on being family-friendly, and returning to a more unforgiving, hyper-realistic style of horror. The copious blood and guts are back, but instead of the gritty, dreary films of the 1970s and 1980s, these newer horror films are shiny, faster, deadlier, and far more unforgiving, with director Marcus Nispel's 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre still serving as the quintessentail example of what early 21st century horror looks, sounds, and feels like. 2004's Dawn of the Dead is another such film that is never afraid to paint its canvas blood-red, showing viewers an extremely graphic, and vividly so, take on one of cinema's most storied horror sub-genres: the zombie film. Invoking the name of the most cherished -- and finest -- zombie film yet, George A. Romero's seminal 1978 classic, 2004's Dawn of the Dead never quite decides if it is a remake, a re-imagining, or a mostly separate entity altogether. It has obviously borrowed the basic plot of the late 70s classic, but as the film plays out, it becomes clear to anyone who has seen Romero's film that the similarities stop at the premise. Director Zack Snyder's film is a decent one, and were it in no way tied to Romero's, it may have worked better, and indeed, for the modern audience craving more gore, a faster pace, and snazzier visuals, the film works well. It even works well for horror fans in general, and even for the most stalwart purists who hold Romero's work in the highest regard, the 2004 edition of Dawn of the Dead is still a fun, if not mindless, ride when viewed in the context of a standalone film.
Ana (Sarah Polley, Beowulf & Grendel) is a nurse who returns home from an overlong shift at work to spend time with her husband, tuning out the world and finding herself completely unawares of the mayhem about to erupt all around her. She and her husband awaken the following morning to find a neighborhood girl in their bedroom doorway. The crazed, bloodied girl devours the neck of Ana's husband. He seemingly perishes but rises to his feet and attempts to kill Ana. Barely escaping, she exits her home to find her suburb, and Milwaukee proper, engulfed in bloody chaos and overrun with the living dead. Following a harrowing car accident, she meets a police officer named Kenneth (Ving Rhames, Con Air), who is on his way to a local military base, Fort Pastor, to reunite with his brother. The two subsequently stumble upon another ragtag band of survivors who inform Kenneth that the road to Fort Pastor is one that leads to certain death, and the groups combine forces and head to a local mall to seek refuge from the chaos outside. There, they, and a trio of security guards, hole up and seek any and all information and aid they can find, all the while trying to maintain their sanity and survive the bloodbath outside -- and each other on the inside.
Dawn of the Dead is a film drenched in blood, and there is no escaping that. Relentless and grim, the film is sure to satiate the appetite of the most ardent gore hound. Dawn of the Dead plays as a hyperactive blood bath, and despite the references to Romero's film, it does not necessarily target a more mature audience who grew up with the works of Romero, Argento, or Carpenter, instead hoping to draw in a new generation of horror fans who enjoy the works of Eli Roth, Leigh Whannell, and the aforementioned Marcus Nispel. Nevertheless, the filmmakers have seen fit to pay homage to the original throughout, and not only via the film's title. Fans of the Romero film will notice a department store at the mall named for Gaylen Ross, the lead actresses in the previous film, and cameos from Ken Foree and Tom Savini, star and famed make-up artist from the 1978 film, respectively. In some ways, then, the film is a tribute to the original, but in other ways it is somewhat of an insult. Gone is the satire on commercialism and the herd mentality that served as the never seen but always implied force that drove the first film, replaced by a mostly straight horror picture with no underlying message, which is why the film does not come close to being as compelling as Romero's. 2004's Dawn of the Dead, instead, focuses on creating faster, gorier zombies and quickly-paced action sequences meant to raise the adrenaline levels of viewers, rather than framing the picture in any sort of context outside of a superficial gore- and action-fest. The characters in this newer version are far less interesting and come complete with dull and predictable personalities, too. The best characters are Kenneth, probably because Ving Rhames brings a genuine performance and a focus to the character, and the gun shop owner, Andy, who is better developed and more interesting than any other character in the film, and with practically no dialogue. Superficially, however, watching the film for nothing but the violence and gore, it is plenty entertaining. It's a nonstop action film that is never afraid to open the floodgates and pour an endless supply of blood and guts onto the screen.
Dawn of the Dead also fails to engender any sort of emotional bond between audience and characters. Some scenes try to come off as touching, but they flop. As mentioned above, Kenneth and Andy are the only two with whom the audience is ever able to build a rapport. Even Ana, played by Sarah Polley, and Michael, played by Jake Weber (U-571), offer little in the way of genuine emotion or spirit. The security guards are tedious at best, lending to the film nothing but a cheap antagonist that offer more in the way of development than the film's primary enemies, the horde of nondescript zombies who do nothing but run around with blood all over themselves. Also failing are several scenes that aim to be both bonding moments for the characters and serve as a reinforcement of the poignancy in the face of the despair of the situation. Such scenes mean well, but do little to keep the pacing up, and even less to further emotionally invest the audience in the characters.
Dawn of the Dead Blu-ray, Video Quality
Dawn of the Dead infests Blu-ray with a 1080p, 2.35:1-framed transfer. Detail is excellent in many scenes and the transfer often conveys a sharp, crisp image that pops right off the screen. Black levels are decent, if not a bit crushed, however. Dawn of the Dead features a distinctive color palette; the interior mall shots are sometimes a cold, somber shade of green, but the film takes on many other tones, too, from bright, natural exteriors to dim basements and garages, all running the gamut of visual styles. The film oftentimes alters drastically in its visual conveyance of the story. From scenes exhibiting extreme amounts of noise in dark, poorly lit locales, to bright, clean, eye-catching scenery that is nothing short of amazing, the film manages to keep viewers interested to see what sort of visual cues the film will take on next. There is sort of a processed, artificial look to much of the film which stays true to the editions I have seen before. The clean, steely look of the mall comes through fine, with plenty of eye-catching detail to be found. Grain and noise is seen aplenty, particularly over bright whites, and while some shots are clean, others are caked in speckles and other blemishes. Dawn of the Dead is a frustrating transfer at best; its wide array of color schemes, locales, and textures sometimes translate well to high definition, and other times make for a fairly nondescript experience. With its greater attention to detail, however, the transfer is still a solid step up from the standard definition DVD.
Dawn of the Dead Blu-ray, Audio Quality
As with most other Universal Blu-ray titles on the market at the time of this publication, Dawn of the Dead is an absolute blast to listen to, offering viewers a captivating DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack. Dialogue seems a bit low in volume at the beginning of the film, but no such anomalies were noticed once the film got going full-steam. The volume of sound effects is plenty loud, however, offering listeners an entertaining sonic siege on the aural senses. Surrounds are present and accounted for in nearly every scene. This track is a continuous bombardment of horror action, and it never shies away from exploding into a symphony of well-placed and expertly rendered sound. Bass is thunderous, providing a powerful workout for your subwoofer, through both sound effects and the film's dark, deep, harrowing score. Guns shots ring out loud and powerful with fine imaging and directionality, sounding full and fairly realistic. The track often creates an immersive 360-degree sound field that draws viewers into the film. Atmospherics are excellent. Music finds its way into the back channels and spreads nicely across the front. The soundstage also takes on an expansive feel as voices echo through the empty chambers of the mall, a great example being a dialogue scene in chapter 14. Dawn of the Dead hits all the right notes, and for a movie primed for a great soundtrack, this one does not disappoint.
Dawn of the Dead Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Dawn of the Dead fails to provide fans all of the supplemental materials found on the previous DVD edition, but it does port over a commentary track with director Zack Snyder and producer Eric Newman. This track is fairly basic in nature, though it is entertaining as the participants discuss the experience of creating this, their first feature-length film. They enjoy the process of recounting their thoughts, chuckling over some of the curious decisions made by characters in the film, and more. It's a swift track, one easy to get into and enjoy, and fans of the film might enjoy this one on a sleepless night. Lastly, this disc is U-Control enabled. Every chapter of the disc offers some sort of pop-up picture-in-picture feature, the segments ranging from interviews with the cast and crew, discussions about the re-imagining of the speed with which the zombies move, and a look at the gore and make-up effects seen in the film. As always, fans may choose to jump straight to the segments via the U-Control menu rather than simply waiting for them to appear over the film.
Dawn of the Dead Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Dawn of the Dead is a decent horror movie, and the invoking of Romero's classic does the film more harm than good by the end. Taken as a completely separate entity, the film is an entertaining and blood-soaked romp into the world of zombies. Taken as a re-make or re-imagining of Romero's classic -- and one cannot help but make the connection thanks not only to the film's title, but also from the borrowed themes and homages scattered throughout -- it flops. At the end of the day, the film is neither a good one nor a bad one, and thanks to Zack Snyder's decent direction, the excellent special effects, exciting action sequences, and decent pace, the film falls more towards the "good" end of the scale rather than the "bad." Universal's Blu-ray edition of the film is a mixed bag. Featuring a transfer that is sold but unspectacular, a fantastic soundtrack, and only a few supplements (and failing to provide some of the material found on the previous DVD edition), fans may be reluctant to upgrade. Dawn of the Dead is recommended as a purchase for those who do not own the film on another format.
Dawn of the Dead: Other Editions
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